We didn’t know what to do with a love like this. So we destroyed it.
Peter Seal, 18 March 2018
Jeremiah 31: 31–34; John 12: 20–33
(A 4-inch nail – maybe like those used at the crucifixion – was handed out to each member of the congregation.)
We’re now in the season known as Passiontide … please hold your nail in your hand.
There are two ways to engage with what lies ahead in the next two weeks. Firstly, from the inside, imaginatively; that’s what we do a week today on Palm Sunday and then through Holy Week. Secondly, by taking a step back and reflecting dis-passionately – an opportunity to place Holy Week in the bigger picture of God’s presence in the world since the beginning of time. Let’s try and do that now.
Stephen Hawking died this week. Many things have been said about him. I noted a few that seem to relate to the bigger picture.
- ‘Physical disability gave him the freedom to think.’
- Hawking said, ‘Without imperfection you and I would not exist’.
- People spoke of his ‘courage and persistence’.
- Someone said: ‘A colossal mind and a wonderful spirit’.
- ‘We’ve lost a truly beautiful mind.’
And then, as we acknowledge his immense contribution to cosmology we are, as it were, brought down to earth. Hawking, whose closest relationships were often troubled, said to his children, ‘It wouldn’t be much of a universe without the people you love’. These words come from someone who is regarded by many as one of the greatest scientists of all time, who explored the depths of ‘black holes’; here he is acknowledging that it’s the love between human beings that is of supreme importance.
One of the greatest scientists of all time, who explored the depths of ‘black holes’, is acknowledging that it’s the love between human beings that is of supreme importance.
This is of immense significance for us. We believe that, in the human life that is the ‘lived-out life’ of the man Jesus, we see the very embodiment of love.
In an imaginative piece of writing, Mary Magdalene, who loved Jesus so deeply, says: ‘We didn’t know what to do with a love like this. So we destroyed it.’ This is what happened on what we – with hindsight – call ‘Good Friday’. Men and women, and a whipped-up crowd of really very ordinary folk – rather like us – found themselves caught up in something that became bigger than themselves. The cry of ‘crucify’ may have begun as a whisper, by just a few, but became that bigger shout – ‘crucify him’ – of an unruly crowd.
As we approach Holy Week it’s really important to realise that those who condemned him to death were not wicked people. That’s a hugely simplistic way of approaching what happened. No, they were folk not unlike you and me, who with today’s Mary Magdalene would say, ‘We didn’t know what to do with a love like this. So we destroyed it.’
Other figures in history have been assassinated, or murdered, because their lives were too what you might call ‘full of light’. When the light is too bright, especially for those who are consumed by darkness, there seems no solution but to extinguish the light; or to try and extinguish it.
You will think of figures from history. I mention just one. Twelve years ago Brother Roger, the founder of the Taizé community, was in the great church there during the daily evening prayer, along with 100 or so of his Brothers, and surrounded by about 4,000 young adults. Someone who, it was later discovered, was mentally unstable, came up to him and killed him by cutting his throat. The light, the truth, the beauty of his life were simply too much for her; she had to bring it to an end.
Their example of refined, deep, pure love cannot be forgotten. This is an example of what we mean by resurrection.
We see in Jesus and others we might describe as martyrs that, though their earthly lives have been brutally brought to an end, they simply will not die. What I mean is: their example of refined, deep, pure love cannot be forgotten. It lives on … it just won’t go away, it simply can’t be forgotten. This is an example of what we mean by resurrection. We know from our own experience that those we have loved best, and been influenced by most, who are now dead, continue powerfully to influence and inspire us.
Another quote from some imaginative writing – Mary Magdalene again, about Jesus and the cross: ‘Receive this astonishing gift of tenacious love, all poured out in his dying’.